South By Southwest tried to do an festival in St. Louis in the 1990sBy Michael Calhoun

AUSTIN, Tex. (KMOX) – This is one of the coolest — and fastest growing — cities in the nation, in no small part to the South By Southwest festival we’ve been telling you about.

‘South By’ is getting so big, in fact, they’re spinning some events off to Las Vegas. Not because of the infamous strip — but because founder Tony Hsieh is investing big-time in revitalizing the downtown as an attractive space for creatives.

“It’s classic geek disruption, where you take a weakness and turn it into a strength,” festival director Hugh Forrest told KMOX’s Michael Calhoun. “The downtown project is based in this run-down area of Las Vegas that had kind of been ignored by the strip, so rents were cheap there.”

He said it’s the direction St. Louis and other ‘old cities’ should take — and are in many cases. When asked specifically about St. Louis, Forrest said he’s heard the innovation scene today is “vibrant,” but that he’s really more familiar with the music scene from a couple decades back.

“Way back in the ‘dark ages,’ South By Southwest tried to do an event in St. Louis called the Mississippi River Music Festival,” he recalled. “That was a helluva long time ago.”

Forrest said he remembered Uncle Tupelo, a band from Belleville, being popular and that St. Louis, at the time, had a “cool scene” that South By Southwest wanted to tap into.

Why’d the festival end?

“We just didn’t feel like it was growing,” Forrest said.

Back in Austin, the joke is that either 120 people move to Austin Texas each day. . .or 170 people move there each day.

Forrest notes that a new hotel is scheduled to be completed by next year’s South By, with more opening in later years. He said the festival and Austin’s identities are so intertwined that the two will never separate, but organizers may continue to send specific events to other locales.

Right now, though, they’re focusing on building Vegas, so don’t expect a SXSTL in the near (or even intermediate) future.

But Forrest says the city has the ingredients for success.

“To some degree, cities that are rebuilding have an advantage, because what start-ups want — they want other start-ups and they want cheap places to office.”


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